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CS Tips


Route good code examples for review. Emphasize that code listings are public assets ... Letters of Recommendation. These carry a great amount of weight ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: CS Tips

CS Tips
Personal Character
  • The personal character of programmers has
    received only a little attention
  • Dijkstra, 1965 Programming Considered as a
    Human Activity
  • Weinberg, 1971 The Psychology of Computer
  • But this should receive more attention
  • Electrical Engineer Knowledge of circuits,
    conductivity, how to use an oscilloscope, etc.
  • Software Engineer Primary tool is YOU to design
    and construct the system

Personal Character Off Topic?
  • Inwardness of programming makes personal
    character especially important
  • Ever program at odd hours? Burned out?
  • Programming work is mostly unsupervisable because
    nobody really knows what youre working on unless
    looking over your shoulder all day
  • Often employer not in a position to judge if
    youre good, its up to you to be responsible to
    be good or great
  • Character makes a difference if you cant change
    your intelligence at least you can change your

You dont have to be super intelligent?
  • Nobody is really smart enough to understand
  • Dijkstra, Turing Award Lecture, 1972. The
    Humble Programmer
  • Most programming compensates for limited size of
    stuff in our skulls
  • Best programmers realize how small their brains
    are they are humble
  • Worst programmers refuse to accept that their
    brains arent equal to the task egos keep them
    from being great programmers
  • The more you learn to compensate for your small
    brain, the better programmer you will be and the
    more humble you are the faster you will improve

Compensation Examples
  • Decomposing a system
  • Makes it easier for humans to comprehend, whether
    structured, top-down, or object-oriented
  • Conducting reviews, inspections, tests
    compensates for human fallibilities
  • Originated as part of egoless programming
  • Keeping routines short helps reduce mental
  • Using conventions can help free your brain from
    relatively mundane aspects of coding
  • The humble programmers who compensate for their
    fallibilities write code thats easier for
    themselves and others to understand and with
    fewer errors.

  • Ok, so hopefully you admit your brain is too
    small to understand most programs and you need a
    way to compensate
  • Curiosity about technical subjects is a must to
    become a superior programmer
  • Technical environment changes every 5-10 years,
    if you arent curious to keep up with the changes
    you will go the way of COBOL and punch cards

Actions to exercise curiosity
  • Build your awareness of the development process
  • From reading, own observations
  • Experiment
  • With development process and coding, write tests
    for new concepts, execute in debugger
  • Analyze and plan before you act
  • Learn about successful projects (or why projects
    were unsuccessful)
  • Rarely done, most people wouldnt use their
    recreational time to scrutinize long code
    listings that work (or dont work)
  • But engineers study the Tacoma Narrows bridge, or
    architects study Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Read manuals, books, periodicals

Intellectual Honesty
  • Maturing as a programming professional is
    developing an uncompromising sense of
    intellectual honesty. Examples
  • Refusing to pretend youre an expert when youre
  • Admitting your mistakes
  • Trying to understand a compiler warning rather
    than suppressing the message
  • Clearly understand your program not compiling
    to see if it works
  • Provide realistic status reports
  • Provide realistic schedule estimates and holding
    your ground when management asks you to change
    them (or tricking management to win a project).

Communication and Cooperation
  • Truly excellent programmers learn how to work and
    play with others
  • This includes writing readable code
  • Most good programmers enjoy making programs
    readable, given enough time, although there are a
    few holdouts
  • Level 1 Beginner
  • Capable of using basic capabilities, e.g. loops,
    conditionals, write routines
  • Level 2 Intermediate
  • Capable of basic routines of multiple languages
  • Level 3 Specialist
  • Expertise in a language or environment or both,
    many stuck here
  • Level 4 Guru
  • Level 3 plus recognizes 85 of programming is
    communicating with other people
  • Only 30 of an programmers time is spent working
    alone, on average
  • Guru writes crystal clear code, documents it,
    results in guru status

Creativity and Discipline
  • When I got out of school, I thought I was the
    best programmer in the world. I could write an
    unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use five
    different computer languages, and create 1000
    line programs that WORKED. Then I got out into
    the Real World. My first task was to read and
    understand a 200,000 line Fortran program, then
    speed it up by a factor of two. Any Real
    Programmer will tell you that all the structured
    coding in the world wont help you solve a
    problem like that it takes actual talent.
  • Real Programmers Dont Write Pascal

Creativity and Discipline
  • Tools and methods to emphasize human discipline
    (e.g. standards, conventions) have been
    especially effective
  • 15 year NASA study, 1990
  • Highly creative people can still have discipline
  • Myth that discipline stifles creativity
  • Michelangelo divided the Sistine Chapel into
    symmetric collections of geometric forms, zones
    corresponding to Platonic stages. Self-imposed
    structure for human figures
  • Software engineers can impose similar discipline
    for requirements, design, testing

  • Laziness manifests itself in several ways
  • Deferring an unpleasant task
  • E.g. defer data entry, futz on other items first
  • True laziness
  • Doing an unpleasant task quickly to get it out of
    the way
  • Enlightened laziness spending smallest possible
    time on something unpleasant
  • Writing a tool to do the unpleasant task so you
    never have to do the task again
  • Most productive if you ultimately save time,
    long-term laziness
  • Dont mask laziness as hustle or just doing
    something to look busy

Characteristics that dont matter as much as you
  • Persistence
  • Depending on the situation, can be an asset or a
  • Stuck on a new piece of code hardly ever a
    virtue, try redesigning or try an alternative
    approach, or come back later
  • Good idea to take a break if no progress after 15
  • Hard to know when to give up but its essential
    that you ask

Characteristics that dont matter as much as you
  • Experience
  • Value of hands-on experience compared to book
    learning is smaller in software development
    compared to many other fields
  • Basic knowledge changes rapidly in SW Dev
  • Coding habits effective for COBOL not necessarily
    effective for Java
  • Easy to draw wrong conclusion from experience
  • Five years of C not a big differentiator from
    a couple of years of C, another three years
    makes little difference
  • Advantage goes to the young, hungry programmer!

Characteristics that dont matter as much as you
  • Gonzo Programming
  • If you havent spent at least a month working on
    the same program working 16 hours a day,
    dreaming about it during the remaining 8 hours of
    restless sleep, working several nights straight
    through trying to eliminate that one last bug
    from the program then you havent really
    written a complicated computer program. And you
    may not have the sense that there is something
    exhilarating about programming.
  • Edward Yourden
  • Tribute to programming machismo is bunk and even
    a recipe for failure. May help your ego but how
    about the time spent fixing all the bugs you
    wrote during those all nighters?

  • Do you use a version control system for all your
  • Maybe you did not learn about VCS until later so
    your habit is to just make a project on your
    local machine
  • Once habits are learned, they are hard to break
    or question
  • Examples
  • Adding comments to the code?
  • Youre looking for ways to make code readable, or
    fast, or youre not
  • Youre regularly testing code incrementally as
    changes are made
  • When you learn something new, it will be to your
    benefit to learn it the right way so it becomes
    an easy good habit instead of a bad habit

Job Advice
  • Still CS jobs out there at decent salaries
  • National Association of Colleges and Employers

NACE Salary Survey
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Supply of CS Grads Trending Up
  • www.cra.org/statistics

Supply of CS Grads Trending Up
  • www.cra.org/statistics

Job Seeking Advice
  • Regularly update your resume
  • Internet presence
  • Employers will google you, build a web page
  • Could include projects youve worked on, e.g.
    expose your senior project
  • Postings to mailing lists, discussion boards
  • Learn a hot technology
  • Helps marketability, bot resume searches, e.g.
    Hibernate, AJAX, etc.
  • Learn a hot methodology
  • E.g. Agile Development Methodologies

Job Seeking Advice
  • Pitch in on an open source project
  • Tons of projects out there looking for
  • www.sourceforge.net, www.freshmeat.net
  • Statistically, big companies pay more but dont
    forget the little companies or freelance work
  • Learn to use software tools
  • Version control, IDE, bug trackers, profilers

Job Seeking Advice
  • Read every day about the field
  • Tons of programming and technology based mailing
    lists, news services
  • Write some code every day
  • Or your skills will decline
  • Build and rely on your network of people
  • Ask for help and give help when you can
  • If invited for an interview, do your homework
  • Common interview questions http//maxnoy.com/inter
  • http//dev.fyicenter.com/interview/
  • Research the firm, generate questions

Or theres Graduate School
  • MBA
  • Good choice to help move up the corporate ladder,
    particularly into management
  • MS
  • Good choice for technical path, potential for
    management, higher starting salary
  • Ph.D.
  • Potentially highest starting salary but fewer
    career choices

Grad school is not for everyone
  • Plenty of smart people go right to industry
  • Learn on the job
  • Advance within company or hop jobs
  • Entrepreneurs cannot afford to wait
  • For some, grad school provides
  • Personal goal to go as far as possible in a
  • A fast track to a job (faster than working your
    way up)
  • Unique opportunities (no other way to be
  • A great opportunity to focus
  • Hopefully not a way to one-up your peers on the
    resume (degree as status symbol)

What is Graduate School Like?
  • A professors perspective
  • At research universities, the professor runs a
    small company
  • Product Invents and develops long-range research
  • Customer typically Federal Government (National
    Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research
    Projects Agency DARPA)
  • Annual Revenue 300,000 - 1,000,000
  • Employees Grad students
  • At teaching universities, the professor manages a
    small department
  • Grad students often help teach courses
  • Most time spent teaching courses, performing
    university service (committees, curriculum, etc.)
  • Some of the research university activities but at
    a smaller scale

What is Graduate School Like?
  • M.S. Degree
  • 1.5 - 3 years
  • Coursework similar to senior-level undergraduate
  • Usually provided an opportunity to specialize
  • Can easily start degree without selecting area of
  • Good schools provide opportunity to take many
    focused courses in your favorite area
  • Research (in form of thesis) may be required
  • Can sometimes just take courses or take an exam
  • Tuition and stipend are possible
  • (full tuition 15k / 9 mos summer job)

What is Graduate School Like?
  • Ph.D. Degree
  • 4 - 7 years
  • Usually require a Masters Degree first but some
    allow entry to the Ph.D. straight from a
  • Similar coursework to Masters Degree plus
    seminars and courses related to research
  • Usually must pass Ph.D. qualifying exam
  • Research required
  • Tuition and stipend scholarships are standard
  • (15k / 9 mos some summer jobs)
  • Required to specialize
  • Helpful to know research interests from day one
    to expedite selection of research focus
  • Research focus often included in application

Is Graduate School for You?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Sick and tired of school
  • Learn on the job (job hopping)
  • Entrepreneur
  • Technology management (manage engineers)
  • Professor

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Do you enjoy learning - becoming an expert?
  • PhD makes you worlds expert in foo
  • Do you like being a big fish in a small pond?
  • Question applies to job and school options
  • Do you prefer constancy or change?
  • Higher degrees are entree to management and
    provide you with more control
  • Financial and family situation

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Degree pros and cons
  • Bachelors Degree
  • Good starting salary (40-60k) but peaks early
  • More job openings
  • Opportunity to swap jobs or move to management
  • But many jobs are entry level
  • Less control of day-to-day tasks
  • Employer usually benefits from not promoting you
  • May become bored have to hop jobs

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Masters Degree Benefits
  • Better starting salary (50k and up)
  • Many job openings
  • Potential to start at management level
  • Opportunity to swap jobs
  • More control of day-to-day tasks

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Masters Degree Cons
  • Often still not in charge of project
  • 1.5 - 3 years of lost wages (less if paid during
  • More school, might do just as well learning on
    the job
  • May become frustrated by poor employees and lack
    of support from upper-level management

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Ph.D. Degree Benefits
  • Potentially higher starting salary (50k)
  • Large amount of control over work
  • Opportunity to teach in a university or community
  • Management skills assumed
  • Youll be an expert in ________

Is Graduate School for You?
  • Ph.D. Degree Cons
  • Completing Ph.D. dissertation can be stressful
  • 3 - 5 years of income beyond the masters is lost
  • Overqualified to make large jumps between fields
  • Its a lot of hard work with few career options

Ph.D. Production Way Up
CS Ph.Ds by Residency
Ph.D. Pipeline
Ph.D. Pipeline
Where do Ph.D.s Work
How Do I Apply?
  • Application packet generally consists of the
  • Transcript
  • Important, but not much you can do about this
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Important make or break marginal cases
  • Establish relationships with professors, one
    might be from employer
  • Personal Statement
  • Somewhat important think about what you like
  • GREs
  • Somewhat important - subject test is hard, but
    many do poorly.
  • Research
  • It helps if you have worked on a research project
    as an undergraduate to show that you can do
    research as a graduate student

How Do I Apply?
  • Transcript
  • Your schools reputation,
  • your grades
  • and your courses will speak for themselves
  • Schools are sympathetic to GPAs that improve over
    time and weaknesses in outside areas

How Do I Apply?
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • These carry a great amount of weight
  • Help your letter writer by reminding him/her of
    significant interactions you have had
  • Help your letter writer by sharing your research
    interests so he/she may find ways to write a
    letter that complements your personal statement

How Do I Apply?
  • Contact person at other school sometimes helpful
  • This is very difficult
  • Best if you meet at a conference or other
    professional venue
  • Us profs get many such emails from foreign
  • Dont sound desperate
  • Ask a reasonable question about the professors
    research showcase your qualifications

How Do I Apply?
  • Personal Statement
  • This is a great opportunity to stand out
  • Research the schools in which you are interested
  • Ask professors to explain research areas
  • Try to sound like a student with experience,
    focus, and initiative
  • Dont limit your choices by writing something
    that makes you sound too focused (unless you are)

How Do I Apply?
  • GREs
  • General test always required
  • General test is like SATs but slightly harder
  • Subject test sometimes required
  • Subject test is very detail oriented
  • Study! Purchase old tests/books for practice!

Where Do I Apply
  • US News and World Report Top 50
  • Try not to worry about the money
  • Most schools have similar packages for their
    students. Those who want funding can usually
    find it.
  • Try to upgrade
  • CS Grad School List

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Soapbox (Kenricks Opinion)
  • A Masters Degree is most flexible
  • On average youll earn more over your lifetime
    with a MS than with a BS or perhaps even a Ph.D.
  • Youll have more control over your day to day
    tasks and have a leg up in management
  • Only get the Ph.D. if you are strongly compelled
    to get what it provides
  • Dont go to work and think youll come back to
    school its too hard and almost never happens
  • Always remember to consider cost of living
    adjustments when comparing salaries
  • Silicon Valley is expensive

Special Case
  • Get employer-paid M.S. while working
  • Consider quality of school
  • If you werent working, is a better school
  • A MBA degree from UAA might not be worth much to
    you if you are capable of Harvard (wont open
  • Difficult to work and study but youre young
    and might not have time commitments
  • Consider that school will likely pay you too if
    working on a research grant

  • Lots of opportunities for CS majors today
  • Job market
  • Graduate school
  • If you make it big dont forget that a nice
    donation will result in a UAA building named
    after you
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